Sophina's story

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I’m studying French and Comparative Literature at Queen Mary University of London. I’m in my second year of four - in September I’ll be going abroad for a year.

I didn’t really think about going to uni until I was 16 or 17 when the school started to ask what we wanted to do in the future. I was always quite academic so it made sense to go to uni. I had a foster carer who talked about uni sometimes and it sounded interesting.

I got good AS level results. But in the second year of sixth form I moved foster placements in November. I also had a short respite placement in the middle of the school year. Not surprisingly I found it hard to focus on my studies. School were really supportive, they lent me a laptop so I could do my coursework anywhere.  I motivated myself by thinking: ‘I’m going to get out of care and go to uni and do what I want to do, and not be held back by being in care.’

I ticked the box on the UCAS form to say I was in care and a lady from the uni got in touch to offer help. I almost didn’t tick it because I wasn’t sure what would happen if I did! I’m so glad I did though, because if I hadn’t I don’t know where I’d be living now.

"They have all the services you could need at my uni – a GP, mentors, financial hardship people, whatever your problem they can help"

At first I didn’t tell other students at uni that I was in care because I didn’t want a label. But it didn’t work out because whenever my new friends talked about parents I ended up lying about mine. In the end I had to say, “Look, I was in care and I didn’t want to tell you because I thought you might judge me.” But they didn’t mind at all, and they didn’t judge me! I still don’t like people knowing but I’m less bothered when they do  and I even did an interview talking about leaving care.  

I usually seek more support from the uni than the local authority. I have a bursary from Unite in partnership with my uni which lets me have year- round accommodation, plus my local authority gave me a higher education grant. They have all the services you could need at my uni – a GP, mentors, financial hardship people, whatever your problem they can help, plus there’s one person designated to support care leavers. The support has helped me to live independently and I have been able to get good grades.

The thing I found most challenging about uni was the work load – at times it can be massive! I’ve had to be really independent in studying and self-discipline. I’ve also had to go to see my teachers and approach other learning support services myself. You have to take charge of your own learning, they won’t nag you like at school!

I’m going abroad for a year in September to study at a university. I will have to pay my rent there but I have some savings which is reassuring - every time I get a grant or bursary I put a bit of it away, plus you get a grant from Erasmus, the scheme that sends you abroad. I’m really excited about it.